Living History in Bedford, Pennsylvania

Bedford, a pocket of preserved past, offers the visitor a living history experience, enabling him to walk the paths his forefathers forged, inspect several important houses and forts, and even stay in the very resort which sparked its rise.

Covered with a quit of rolling hills, meadows, and forests, the former frontier called for a soul to exert its intrinsic properties of creation on it, as evidenced by the forts which had risen from Harris Ferry along the Susquehanna River in the east to Logstown on the Ohio River in the west during the French and Indian War of 1754 to 1763. Marking the westward expansion of the British like a series of GPS waypoints, they carried names such as Lyttleton, Loudon, Frederick, Raystown/Bedford, Cumberland, Ligonier, Necessity, and Pitt/Duquesne. The two with the dual designations, however, were to be the most instrumental in the area’s development.

Where transportation paths meet, settlements usually rise, as did the town of Bedford in the form of a fort erected by the British during its 1758 campaign against the French along Forbes Road, which had previously been a cohesive collection of Indian trails. They would later evolve into the first trans-Pennsylvania toll rode artery, facilitating horse and wagon transport.

Constructed by Colonel Henry Boquet, General John Forbes’ deputy, the irregularly shaped fortification, covering 7,000 square yards, sported five bastions. A four- to five-foot deep by three-foot-wide, V-shaped ditch encircling its perimeter supported 18-foot-long, side-by-side laid logs, cut from the surrounding oak forests and hewn flat and snugly interlocked before being inserted, while a loopholed gallery extended from the central bastion on its north front down to the water’s edge. Swivel guns guarded its corners.
Entry was provided by three gates-a main one on its south side parallel to today’s Pitt Street; a second, smaller, west-facing one; and a northward-opening postern one.

Perched on a bluff overlooking the river gap, the initially-designated Fort Raystown served as a staging post for 6,790 westward-advancing troops subjected to attacks during their crossing of the imposing Allegheny Mountains, but replenished with necessary supplies before they continued toward Fort Pitt/Duquesne, stronghold of the French.

The British strategy proved successful: their opponents were defeated, effectively removing the barrier to English-speaking control of the Ohio Valley and, ultimately, America.

Redesignated “Fort Bedford” at the end of 1758 after the Fourth Duke of Bedford, England, the bastion served the secondary purpose of providing a sense of safety against Indian attacks, its security fostering settlement of people in search of agricultural valleys and timber-abundant mountains. It thus provided the seed from which the namesaked village eventually grew, becoming the first county seat west of the Tuscarora Mountains and, for a time, all of Western Pennsylvania, strategically located on the intra-state roadway.

Laid out in 1766, it was incorporated 29 years later, on March 13.

County development, paralleling that of the town, was spurred by the discovery of coal on Broad Top Mountain, giving rise to the rails needed to transport it to the area’s budding iron foundries and sparking a 100-percent population increase between 1870 and 1890 alone. Track networks, facilitating iron, timber, and passenger conveyance, were later supplemented, and finally succeeded by, the Lincoln Highway (Route 30), which connects Bedford with Pittsburgh, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

A short, in-town walking tour of Bedford itself enables the visitor to step back into its history in several important buildings.

The National Museum of the American Coverlet, for instance, is housed in the Common School, itself constructed in 1859 at a $7,000 cost and opened with an initial, 211-student enrollment the following year. Functioning as a school until it was sold to private interests in 1999, it incorporates a significant portion of its original structure, including its middle section, ventilation system, and surrounding iron fence.

The Bedford County Court House, built by Solomon Filler between 1828 and 1829 at a $7,500 cost, equally exudes originality, particularly in its tower-installed clock, which had to be hand-wound after a vigorous climb until it was electrified in 1975, and its two internal, self-supporting, circular staircases which lead to the second floor, portrait-lined courtroom. The pair of columns characterizing its façade, later donated by Filler himself, represents God on the left and justice on the right.

The Man on the Monument, located at the intersection of Juliana and Penn streets, was erected in 1890 to honor the soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Civil War, incorporating the more than 20,000 pennies school children had collected for it. It was moved to its present location in 1957.

Behind it is the site of the city’s first courthouse and jail, constructed of blue limestone between 1774 and 1775.

One of the most significant structures-so much so, in fact, that it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984-is the Espy House. Owned by Colonel and Mrs. David Espy, it served as George Washington’s headquarters during the 1794 Whisky Rebellion, in which Western Pennsylvania farmers protested the excise tax imposed on the alcohol by Secretary of Treasury Hamilton. Thwarted by Washington’s 13,000-strong Federal Army, which had claimed the surrounding expanses for its own overnight accommodation, it marked the first and only time that a US president had commanded an army in the field.

Dispersing into the hills by October, the rebels demonstrated defeat.

The National House, opening its doors to weary travelers as a hotel for almost its entire existence, was strategically located on Forbes Road, which is now designated “Pitt Street.”

Built, like the Court House, by Solomon Filler, the Anderson House stands on land acquired from state-namesaked William Penn and was used as a medical office at its front and the Allegheny Bank of Pennsylvania at its back. It served as the only such public depository between Pittsburgh and Chandersburg.

Fort Bedford Museum:

The original fort’s importance was short-lived and the site of only one historically significant event: attempting to release the prisoners held there, James Smith and his Black Boys captured it on September 17, 1769, but after the French and Indian War, its garrison had already been reduced to a paltry 12, and by 1775, when the frontier had moved to Pittsburgh, it quickly spiraled into a state of disrepair.

In order to celebrate Bedford’s bicentennial, a blockade-style structure, formed by logs and chinking, rose from the site of the original fort 200 years after it had been built, in 1958, still perched on a bluff overlooking the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River. A section of its north wall was added in 2006, adjacent to what is now the Fort Bedford Museum.

Subdivided into a main gallery, a transportation room, a rear gallery, a mezzanine, and a gift shop, the blockhouse building internally exudes Western Pennsylvania’s New Frontier atmosphere, displaying some of the 2,000 artifacts in its collection, inclusive of Native American implements, civilian and military objects, household items, flintlock riffles, antique hand tools, 19th-century women’s clothing, a Civil War cannon, a Conestoga wagon, a stoneware crock, documents signed by the Penn family, and a Bedford Springs Resort ledger displaying President Buchanan’s signature.

Its focal point is a large-scale model of the original fort depicting Forbes Road, the Juniata River, and its surrounding area. But, perhaps the rarest piece in the collection is an original, 1758 flag. A gift to British forces at still-designated Fort Raystown from England’s Fourth Duke of Bedford, the hand-sewn, red silk satin damask flag, sporting a 23- by 24-inch union jack canton on its upper, left corner, prompted the fort’s renaming to Bedford at the end of 1758 in his honor. Although no evidence exists as to whether this was its official one, that had hung in the Officer’s Quarters and was only displayed during special occasions.
Nevertheless, patriots from a British officer seized it when freedom from English rule, expressed as the Declaration of Independence, traveled by word of mouth to Bedford.

The museum’s example is the only known British Red Fly to have survived from the French and Indian War.

Old Bedford Village:

The Fort Bedford Museum offers only a single taste of the town’s past. But the more than 40 original and reproduced log, frame, and stone structures comprising Old Bedford Village enable the visitor to step into the shoes of citizens past and walk their paths, interpreting the early pocket of Pennsylvania life preserved here.

A drive through the Claycomb Covered Bridge and a brief pass through the Welcome Center returns him to Pennsylvania’s dawn as a colony, where horse-clomping carriages are pulled over gravel paths, plumes of smoke spiral from log cabin chimneys, people wear period dress, and the sounds of striking metal reverberate from the blacksmith shop.

The village offers several examples of era dwellings. The Biddle House, for instance, is a two-story log structure originally built a few miles away in Dutch Corner, and is one of the earliest within the complex. Its V-shaped, double fireplace provided both heat and a method for cooking.

A hybrid of dwellings, the Kegg-Blasko House next door incorporates the remnants of a structure built by Thomas Kinton in 1768 and James Heydon in 1790, both located in Bedford County.

An 1802 deed identifies the village’s Semanek House as “the log mansion,” which originally stood in the village of Ryot in West St. Clair Township. It employed now almost-extinct chestnut in its construction.

The Williams Cabin is typical of the shacks most first-generation settlers lived in until time and establishment enabled them to construct more substantial ones, while the contrastive Anderson Victorian House, assembled from Anandale Hotel lumber, evokes its namesaked Victorian period.

Two schools are represented: the Kniseley School, of standard configuration, was constructed near Pleasantville in 1869 and used until the 1930s, while the appropriately-named 8 Square School, an octagonal building created in 1851 by Nat Hoover in East St. Clair Township, tended to be frequented by children of wealthier families.

There are numerous shops and services where costumed citizens still practice original methods. The Ice Cream Parlor features 17th-century cottage style construction and Feather’s Bakery, believed to have been built by William Nichols in 1808, still produces purchasable baked goods in its ovens as the “Old Bedford Village Bakery,” as evidenced by the aromas escaping from its opened door. Light lunches can equally be enjoyed in the dark, wooden-booth-provisioned interior of the Pendergrass Tavern, whose original counterpart had been located just outside the walls of Fort Bedford in the 1750s.

Other life necessities from the period were obtainable from the Chandler (candles), Furry’s Basket Shop, the Cooper Shop (barrels and casks), the General Store and Post Office, the Old Bedford Village Press, Bedford County Rifles, the Carriage Shop, Fisher’s Pottery, the Whitesmith (tin), and the Broom Shop.
Human power propelled all of the village’s machinery, as indicated by the foot-pedaled laith and bicycle-resembling jigsaw in Hemings Furniture and Wood Shop, and in Antonson Blacksmithing, where the tools necessary for many other period crafts took shape, including the very shoes needed to run the day’s engine-the horse.

The village also took care of man’s improper, earthly behavior in the jail, which represents the type used prior to 1800 in a county seat, and ensured that his Heavenly soul would not go ashtray in the Christ Church, a replica of the 1806 Union Church which is made of logs and still stands west of Schellsburg.

Educational programs, employing the village’s rich resources and entailing craft making, teach, depict, and demonstrate 18th- and 19th-century Pennsylvania life by means of quilting, candle dipping, coopering, blacksmithing, basket making, spinning, wheat weaving, leather working, tin smithing, broom making, Maize Pappouse doll making, and buggy riding in a series of classes, lectures, and tours. Village-made arts and crafts are purchasable in the Welcome Center’s gift shop.

Seasons and holidays mark special events, such as colonial crafts exhibits; festivals with historical customs, costumes, and cuisine; gunfights with muzzle loading; Civil and French and Indian War reenactments; Old West weekends; murder mystery evenings; pumpkinfests; and Old Fashioned Christmases, which see the village aglow with candle lanterns.

Bedford Springs Resort:

Bedford’s many important houses and forts enable the visitor to glimpse its history, but the Bedford Springs Resort enables him to live it.

Although the original Bedford Fort and Broad Top Mountain-discovered coal had attracted people to the area, there had been one other important draw: mineral springs.

As far back as 1796, Dr. John Anderson discovered what Native Americans had long known-namely, that drinking and bathing in the water from the area’s seven chalybeat, limestone, sulfur, and sweat springs produced both restorative and curative results. Incorporating these otherwise cost-free remedies in his own medical practice, he elected to purchase the 2,200 acres surrounding them and construct his own home on them. But his privacy in this idyllic spot was short-lived.

Traveling to Cumberland, Maryland, and then making the final 21-mile trek to Bedford by horse and wagon, a growing number of visitors was drawn to the area in search of the springs’ curative powers, and Dr. Anderson initially accommodated them in impromptu tents, preparing customized prescriptions based upon individual health requirements. Bathing facilities took form in 1802.

But the unquenchable thirst quickly demanded replacement of the temporary tents with more permanent-and area-indicative-accommodations–in the form of the Stone Inn four years later, whose very building blocks, like the waters, were freely provided by the springs-adjacent mountain and oxen-hauled down its sides. Permanent in location, it was only temporary in fulfilling its purpose, as the number of guests exerting demand for it quickly exceeded its capacity.

According to a travelogue written by Joshua Galpin in 1809, when the Stone House had already been joined by Crackford and a precursor to Evitt House, the facilities included a “large frame lodging house and several smaller ones for families-warm and cold baths and a billiard room.”

The Swiss building and others quickly rose from the once edificeless expanse.

Increasingly known for its comfortable accommodations, cuisine, and activities emphasizing its natural surroundings, it consistently attracted guests from industrializing eastern seaboard cities, as well as a growing list of wealthy, prominent dignitaries. Future US President and Pennsylvania native James Buchanan, for instance, first visited Bedford Springs in 1821 and would eventually spend 40 summers there, dubbing it his “Summer White House.” In 1848, James K. Polk became one of ten sitting presidents to stay there, followed by Taylor, Taft, Polk, Harding, and Eisenhower, among others, along with nine Supreme Court justices and countless celebrities. Buchanan himself received the first transatlantic cable, sent by England’s Queen Victoria, at the resort ten years later.

Travel to Bedford was greatly eased in 1872 when rail access connected the growing area with powerhouses such as Philadelphia, Washington, and New York for the first time.

Developing into one of America’s grand resorts during the end of the 19th century, it appropriately reflected the period’s golden age with spring houses, bridges, gates, and trails, and the transatlantic cable was to serve as only the first of many resort-associated innovations: it introduced one of the country’s first golf courses, designed by Spencer Oldham, in 1895, for example, and it was followed a decade later by the first indoor, mineral spring-fed pool, complete with a solarium and hydrotherapy rooms.

Although medical advances tipped the scales away from the Bedford Spring’s original purpose, its reputation as a luxurious resort serving a prestigious clientele was firmly entrenched in the area which had created it-so much so, in fact, that a central colonnade now connected the main dining room with a columned pavilion at Magnesia Springs across Schober’s Run.

Its role, still maintaining a luxurious touch, shifted between 1941 and 1943 when the US Navy, occupying the resort, trained some 7,000 sailors in radio operations, and it then served as a detention center for almost 200 Japanese diplomats captured in Germany during World War II until they were exchanged for American prisoners-of-war held in Asia.

Modern influences were again exerted in the 1950s with the installation of environmental control and sprinkler systems.

Inevitably, popularity wrestled with purpose. Travel trends shifted and, despite having been designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984, it continued to decline until it was closed two years later. A subsequent flood wreaked havoc on its 200-year-old wooden walls.

But Bedford Springs Partners, still detecting its glimmer of glory, purchased the once grand dame of properties for $8 million, subjecting it to a massive, $120 million restoration to resurrect and return it to its 1905 golden age guise and reopening its doors on July 12, 2007 after an eighth mineral spring had intermittently been discovered. After a secondary acquisition two years later, it was renamed the “Omni Bedford Springs Resort and Spa.””

Its self-proclaimed mission is to “open history’s door.”

Located in the Allegheny Mountain region of south-central Pennsylvania, and overlooking Cumberland Valley, the Bedford Springs Resort is accessed by driving down a small, return-to-history hill to a sanctuary preserved in time, and then passing the white, porch-lined façade of a sprawling mansion. Negotiating manicured lawns and formal gardens amid the audible trickles of streams and springs, the visitor enters the circular driveway, which approaches the dual-story, brick, ante-bellum Colonnade. Aside from being a National Historic Landmark, the resort is both a Triple-A four-diamond property and ranks as one of the Historic Hotels of America.

Serving as the core of connectivity to the mixture of adjoining building styles, the Colonnade itself houses the guest reception adorned with an original, 39-star American flag; the lobby; the location of the daily, complementary afternoon tea service; and the staircase leading to the ballroom. One of its wings leads to the Stone Inn with its Frontier Tavern and 1796 Room restaurants, while the other leads past the Crystal Room Restaurant, through the library, past the Che Sara Sara snack stand, the indoor pool, and the shop-lined corridor to the spa.

The resort’s 216 rooms and four suites, located in either the Historic or new Spa Wing, are seeped in history and tradition, yet offer modern luxury, with authentic patterns and textures, marble floors and vanities in their bathrooms, Egyptian linens, and authentic, bygone-era reminiscent walking sticks.

There are several restaurants.

The Crystal Room, for example, had formerly served as the Music Room and had also been used as the Ladies’ Parlor. Renovated in 1905 during the resort’s grand campaign, it replaced the considerably sized facility upstairs, which then became the Colonnade Ballroom. Now featuring a screen of classic Doric columns on either side, it sports original, name-reflective crystal chandeliers; gilt-framed mirrors; Victorian, round-back chairs; four hues of blue; a rotisserie; an exhibition kitchen; a 1,500-bottle wine cellar; and a collection of guest photographs taken between 1892 and 1898. It opens on to the private Daniel Webster Room.

The Frontier Tavern, located in the hotel’s Stone Inn section, had been a stagecoach stop from which the Bedford Spring’s earliest guests had been wagon-transported to the original tavern three miles away for dinner. Adorned with period artifacts, such as a bear trap, tools, a wood stove, and colorful crockery, it also sports a bar and billiard table.

The 1796 Room, also located in the Stone Inn section, reflects the very year that Dr. John Anderson first purchased the Bedford Springs property and exudes this 18th-century atmosphere with a steaks-and-chops, American colonial menu, which also includes choices such as bison, venison, rabbit, wild boar, quail, game pie, and mountain trout.

The mineral spring-fed indoor pool, returned to its 1905 appearance, sports the orchestra pit from which guests had been entertained more than a century ago.

The 30,000-square-foot Springs Eternal Spa includes wet and dry treatment rooms, aromatherapy, massages, facials, a garden, and a boutique, with actual mineral springs water used in all treatments.

The conference center is two-thirds its size, at 20,000 square feet.

The 18-hole, “Old Course”-designated golf course, reflecting the 1923, Donald Ross-designed rendition, is the third such creation after that of Spencer Oldham in 1895 and the intermittent, nine-hole, A. W. Tillinghast version of 1912.

Aside from golfing, the Bedford Springs Resort offers a considerable array of activities, including indoor and outdoor swimming, hiking and bicycling on 25 miles of trails, fishing in a gold-medal trout stream, kayaking, river rafting, and cross-country skiing, and hosts a wide range of functions, from reunions to horse-and-carriage weddings.